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Council v Council in Catalpa tree clash!

John Brittan

The Catalpa TreeThe Catalpa tree behind the War Memorial in Monmouth’s St James’ Square was condemned by Monmouthshire County Council earlier this year. Monmouth residents were unhappy with this decision because it was not at all clear why the tree had to be cut down. The Catalpa tree stands inside a fenced area around the cenotaph. Planted around 1900, the Catalpa was a mature tree when the war memorial was unveiled in 1921. For almost everyone alive today, the tree and the fenced enclosure are as much parts of the cenotaph as the statue.

Barbara Wright, speaking for Monmouthshire County Council, is on record as saying that the main reason for felling the tree is to avoid the risk of litigation if bits fall off and cause damage. To the Layman, this argument seems of dubious veracity because there have not been any cases of bits falling off.

In response to the County Council’s decision, Monmouth Town Council, Monmouth Action Group and Monmouth Archaeological Society joined together to pay for a professional investigation into the tree’s health and a leading arboriculturalist (tree surgeon) was commissioned to investigate the tree. His report indicated that the tree needed attention but that it could be treated to make it safe and so extend its life significantly. He wrote that the unusual tree was, “an outstanding part of our tree heritage and worthy of the effort and expense involved in its management”.

Monmouthshire County Council asked a different expert to make another report. Both experts agreed that parts of the tree were in a potentially dangerous state but that it would be relatively simple to take action to make the tree safe. They disagreed over whether the tree would be likely to survive the treatment it needed to make it safe.

The Town’s specialist recommends that the tree be made safe and allowed to live out its natural span. The County’s specialist believes that the tree will die if made safe, so should be felled.

Ignoring local wishes, the Area Manager of the County Council, Mrs Jenny Lewis, intends to have the tree felled without even asking how much it would cost to make it safe. The cost of litigation in the event of an accident that has not happened and that need never happen is the declared reason for riding roughshod over the people who live here.

Concern to save money may be the reason for the County’s deafness. If so, the County Council members should not forget that concerns over their excessive expenses have been in the headlines recently – with a single councillors’ expense claims being more than enough to reprieve the Catalpa tree several times over.

If anyone should believe that a concern for public safety is the main issue, they should remember that the tree has never caused injury and that all the expert opinion is that it would present no threat at all if remedial action were taken. It might die and then have to be felled anyway, but it would not be a threat to anyone.

At this time, the County Council has made the decision to ignore local concerns and put the felling of the tree out to public tender. I believe that this is immoral and possibly illegal because, by felling this tree unnecessarily, Monmouthshire County Council will effectively desecrate the setting of an official war grave.

To express your support for the preservation of the Catalpa tree, write to:

Colin Berg
Chief Executive
Monmouthshire County Council
County Hall
Cwmbran
NP44 2XH

or send an email to colinberg@monmouthshire.gov.uk

You might like to include passages similar to these:-

Experts have said that the Catalpa tree is of local and National importance. It is in an enclosure along with our town cenotaph, and so is part of the war memorial. The memorial and its setting must be treated with all respect.

I recognise that the tree must eventually be replaced, but I want to keep the tree alive as long as possible, and long enough to arrange its replacement from its own cuttings.

Safety need not be an issue, as both specialist arboriculturalists have agreed. Prematurely felling the tree would be an act of vandalism that cannot be justified under public Health and Safety requirements and so would unnecessarily desecrate the setting of an official war grave.


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